There’s a Toni Morrison quote I used to bristle at:
“The function of racism is distraction.”
I had never read the full context of this quote and initially, I thought this was another attempt to dismiss racism as a primary societal ill deserving of discussion, while prompting us to start paying attention to the “real” issue ie;- classism. This is an idea that’s frequently purported by clueless celebrities, people who just finished reading Rich Dad/Poor Dad, and that Black Capitalism group whose posts your cousin shares on your Facebook news feed. However, as the years passed, and current events and subsequent commentary rolled by, I finally understood what she meant. This is especially true today, in what many call ‘Trump’s America.” Even typing the aforementioned phrase I am physically struggling to keep my eyes from rolling so far back into my head that I pass out.
We know Trump’s mentioning of the gun violence in Chicago, and poverty in the inner city is the obligatory conservative dog whistle, not genuine concern. We know his sensationalist rhetoric is meant to reassert Black urban dwellers as either impoverished, uneducated, unemployed hapless citizens or barbaric and morally depraved “top gang thugs.” Because of this, I understand the pushback of such a narrative. I understand rebutting his egg avi jargon when he asserts that we are collectively poor and struggling, unemployed, immersed in misery and violence, largely in part due to Obama’s leadership and our own moral depravity. When he reprimanded John Lewis for presiding over a ‘poor and struggling’ Atlanta district it's highly unlikely he knew anything about said district, other than it’s a metro area largely populated by Black people.
However, while we’re pushing back via Twitter RT’s with personal anecdotes passionately proclaiming to be magically Blackity Black, passport wielding, Obama-era loving successful negroes — ones who don’t live in the inner cities and/or are not greeted with bullets as soon as we open our doors — we become preoccupied. The truth is that a lot of Black people are in fact impoverished, are in fact living in areas rife with violence, and are in fact unemployed and suffering. The past eight years have not been kind to them and the compulsion to tout Obama’s job creation record in defense against Trump’s bloated rants obscures the truth that this arguable ‘growth’ did not reach the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of this country’s Black populations.
This reality was reiterated when U.S Rep Danny Davis released a data report this past February, revealing the unemployment rate for African American male residents in Chicago is currently three times the national average at 21% (14% higher than unemployment for white men in the city). 52% of African American men in Chicago are not in the labor force. According to 2013 census reports, 25% of Chicago’s Black residents are jobless and yes, this did happen under the watch of a city boasting largely Democratic and liberal leadership. Of the 5000 jobs cut since 2009, 40% of those belonged to workers whose zip codes denote residence in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Even while Rahm Emanuel rode to mayoral victory with 59% of the city’s Black vote, he continues the tradition of focusing job creation in downtown and affluent neighborhoods to the exclusion of black communities. According to a 2013 report from The Grassroots Collaborative, only 27% of the 50,000 jobs created downtown actually went to Chicago residents (one can only imagine how little of these went to Black folks). Around 10% of Chicago residents are living in deep poverty ($5,885 a year for an individual or less than $12,125 for a family of four), and seven predominately Black communities account for that population. African American children accounted for 83.7% of homeless students identified by CPS according to the Chicago Coalition For The Homeless. All of these are grave statistics that correlate with the gun and gang violence concentrated in Black areas around the city, among other factors. Sure they are not headline grabbers; like Trump calling for federal intervention, but these are matters that are imperative to the conversations that more importantly we must have among ourselves.
While Chicago is emblematic of some of this country's worst socioeconomic segregation and racial wealth gaps, it is not at all an anomaly. Sure Trump is a malignant racist demagogue, but Atlanta’s income inequality gap is 3rd in the nation. That is something that actually does deserve our examination. There are a lot of dangerous things about the current president, but among them is the ease at which he has become the sole symbol and catalyst for America’s racial and economic strife. The problem with calling it ‘Trump’s America’ is the implication that these issues are newly formed, or just recently exacerbated, that this country is a product of his policy when in fact this country’s policy produced and enables him. His presidency is yet another optical aberration allowing us to avoid taking a clear and honest look at our current condition, we did not arrive here overnight on the SS. Orange Mess Express. Chicago’s suffering at least, is a result of bipartisan state level neglect, as well as local Democratic incompetence and malfeasance.
Toni was right, racism is a distraction, and while it is absolutely understandable to be contemptuous of our current administration, we can also stand to stop being guard dogs in defense of figures and affiliations who have failed a lot of us. We can stand to spend less time barking at the Orange Obfuscation and more time noticing the apathetic silence of those in our communities, who can’t tell the difference between the present — what many argue is the impending apocalypse — and January 20, 2009.